News that online dating has caught on in India is passé. As more and more youngsters sign on to sites and apps like Okcupid and Tinder; online dating can no longer be termed a fad. It’s here to stay. As the online dating culture matures in India what remains unexplored are the real life implications of the virtual world. Are people apprehensive about meeting a person they have met online for a date? Does online dating have any demonstrable impact on the dating culture in this country? Is there an experiential divide between men and women when it comes to online dating? These are some of the questions we hope to tackle in this short but comprehensive exploration of online dating in India.
Online dating is unarguably a phenomenon endemic to the metros and tier two towns. The users who invariably sign up are in the age group of 18-35 and are remarkably Internet savvy. Shrilata Sen found her current partner on the online dating website Okcupid. In her own words, “I am thankful that sites like Okcupid and Tinder exist; they provide a readymade platform for those with similar interests to meet and have a conversation and if things go well, take it forward. If it had not been for Okcupid then I would not have met my current partner with whom I share a wonderful bond”. Except that things are not so streamlined and idyllic in the online dating world, Shrilata’s case is an exception rather than the norm.
The realm of online dating in India to a large extent reflects the muddled conservative-liberal ethos of our culture. Lack of inhibition and directness in talk is frowned upon. Politeness is a lost art. Women get harangued relentlessly by men whose testosterone crazed bodies are threatening mutiny. Men are troubled by the lack of potential dating partners. According to Namgayal Wangdu, a public relations executive, “Most women are apprehensive of being seen on a dating website. It’s a fact of life that any woman on an online dating site will receive more messages than a man. What this excessive attention from men does is scare away most women and eventually only the more courageous remain. The pool of women who are willing to meet in person, let alone date remains infinitesimally small. The pool of men with their lusty, inappropriate messages just keeps growing
however. This ends up affecting sane, chilled out men like me who are looking to meet interesting women and hopefully gauge whether there is any common ground between us through the means of a conversation”.
Wangdu’s analysis makes sense from a demographic and sociological viewpoint. India has an adverse sex ratio – all that wanton female foeticide has just come back to bite us in our
collective dating posterior. Sociologically, the reluctance of women to get on online dating websites is self-evident in many ways.“I am not looking for a hookup” is almost mandatory in Tinder bios. This is understandable, given the largely pseudo-liberal mindset of most youngsters. This can also be explained from the perspective that different people seek different relationship paradigms. The tragedy here is the petty slut shaming. When a woman says that she is not looking for a hookup or alternatively says that I am not like those women who have casual sex, what is she implying? That women who make liberated and conscious sexual choices are somehow lesser beings? Anjum’s experience with online dating websites was particularly bad, “I signed onto Okcupid after a friend of mine encouraged me to explore the website. In a span of three days I got messages from about 200 men looking for sex in some form; while I do not frown upon premarital sex, what was disturbing was the vulgar nature of these messages. They instantly assumed that women who sign on to dating websites must be easy, horny and available. The messages increasingly became random. The one guy I thought was decent turned out to be a complete creep. On our first date he badgered me with inappropriate questions of a sexual nature. I later had to block him”. Anjum’s experience does by and large seem to be representative of the experience of Indian women vis-a-vis online dating websites but then there are those women who have met multiple partners through dating websites and think of the experience as a largely positive one.
The high priestess of online dating has to be Ahona. She writes the blog “Fifty dates in Delhi”, which is extremely popular amongst those who are familiar with the world of online dating. Having gone on 22 first dates so far it is safe to say that she has valuable and unique insights to offer about dating in the virtual world. When quizzed about these, she had this to say, “I never thought I would ever say this, but rejection really isn’t that hard to deal with. The first 50 times, yes! But then, who cares! It’s a random stranger on the Internet! You’ve got nothing to lose. I have also learnt that I have possibly unrealistically high standards and I'm totally ok with that. Lastly, I believe that as I’ve gotten older the Internet is the best place to discover things, new people, music, books, and most of the discoveries I’ve made these past four years have been via Okcupid. So yay Internet dating!”.
Another new element that online dating sites and apps like Okcupid and Tinder have brought into the dating culture is the tacit element of polyamory or in some cases serial monogamy. Any person on Tinder is at any given point of time talking to multiple people. In many ways this leaves users acting like guests at an Indian wedding buffett: picking and choosing items of the menu which suit their dating palette. Most users that were interviewed for the purpose of this article confessed that they were not seeing just one person exclusively. According to them it defeats the purpose of being online if they can’t explore the available options. The final word on this has to be Kshitij Tyagi who has been dating online for the past two years.” I see relationships like a river, sometimes a river is just like a rivulet, sometimes it flows into the sea and sometimes it meanders aimlessly; dating is exactly like that, it’s important to let the river flow organically and go with the flow, a river can’t be dammed up because then it just causes a flood of emotions. Life changes every second and it’s important to stay in the present”.
Tyagi’s thoughts were echoed by most of the people interviewed for this article. They are happy with relationships taking their own course rather than falling into the conventional pattern of dating and then quickly seeking the sanction of their parents to get married. As Bob Dylan would say, The Times They Are A-changin.
(Names have been changed to protect the privacy of those interviewed)